High level athletes have long known the therapeutic effects of extreme cold, with many choosing to take ice baths to aid recovery. The latest trend in athlete preparation and recovery is cryotherapy. We explore the use and benefits of this increasingly popular treatment.
Used by athletes from Mo Farah1 to Floyd Mayweather, whole body cryotherapy involves immersing your entire body in a sub-zero pod, rapidly cooling the skin's temperature.
Luton Town Football Club’s Defender, James Justin, and Forward, Danny Hylton, also use cryotherapy, visiting BMI Hendon Hospital to help with their match preparation. James and Danny braved the -85 degree Celsius chamber for three minutes, wearing only a headband, gloves, underwear and a mask to protect their extremities.
“I wanted to use the cryotherapy chamber because of how beneficial it is for your body”, said James. “We’re footballers and sometimes there are three games a week and it’s hard to get your body in the right shape for the next game.”
What are the benefits of Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC)?
It may be gaining in popularity but what evidence is there of its effectiveness? Lombardi et al (2017) conducted a review of the literature on WBC effectiveness since 2010. The study highlighted how WBC has been demonstrated to be a preventative strategy against exercise induced soreness and inflammation2. They also noted that WBC-associated improvements in muscular tiredness, pain, and well-being after strenuous exercise were reported in the majority, but not all, of the reviewed studies.
“Most of the athletes who are coming to use the whole body cryotherapy chamber are either using it because they’ve got an injury, so they’re trying to reduce their pain levels and inflammation,” said Louise Spence, Clinical Services Manager - Physiotherapy at BMI Hendon Hospital. “Or they’re using it as a recovery session, so to speed up the recovery after playing, for example, a football or rugby match and to reduce the muscle soreness.”
Louise explained that most people using the cryotherapy chamber notice an instant change. She reports that a lot of people come out saying they instantly feel refreshed and actually sleep better that evening.
The main difference I feel after using the chamber is that I feel energised, refreshed and my muscles feel stronger and less fatigued - Danny Hylton, Luton Town FC.
Is cryotherapy safe?
Whole body cryotherapy rapidly cools the body’s skin temperature; however the body’s core temperature remains largely unchanged. This is really important as it means the body won’t go into a hypothermic state.
When performed in appropriate and controlled conditions, cryotherapy is safe. However, as it is a clinical application, cryotherapy should follow strict guidelines. It may not be suitable for those who suffer from conditions such as Raynaud’s disease, hypothyroidism, claustrophobia, heart and lung conditions1. You should discuss with your doctor or physiotherapist before to deciding whether cryotherapy is right for you.
Cryotherapy for athletes
It’s clear that cryotherapy has an array of potential benefits for professional athletes, but what makes cryotherapy the chosen treatment for Luton Town Football Club?
Jared Roberts-Smith, Head of Sports Science at Luton Town FC said, “Recovery is quite a wide spectrum of work. We’ve previously used pool sessions and the gym at the football ground, but using a facility like the whole body cryotherapy at BMI Hendon just helps ensure that it’s a different modality. Hopefully we’ll get some better physiological responses from it, and ultimately make sure the lads are as fresh as possible going into training and games.”
You can keep reading about cryotherapy here.
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